Every Monday in Citizenship Confusion, Alan Noble discusses how we confuse our heavenly citizenship with citizenship to the state, culture, and the world.
Criticism is always hard to take. And criticism of your community, by those within your community, can be even harder to take. It’s much easier to receive rebuke from those who belong to the Other Side because you can always write it off as a difference in “worldview.” At times in my column (but not all the time), I have sought to lovingly admonish my brothers and sisters in Christ. But I’m afraid that some of my admonitions have not been received or communicated well. Some would even question whether we should be criticizing other believers’ ministries at all.
My Hit List?
Over the last year in my column, I have exhorted, admonished, criticized, warned against, or condemned the following organizations and people, many of whom are Christian:
- Nationalism in the Church
- The Air Force
- WORLD Magazine
- Elevation Church’s worship team
- Jason Mattera (at Human Events) and Rick Pearcey
- Ray Comfort
- Those who mock Atheists
- Robert Spencer and JihadWatch.com
- John Piper
- Pamela Geller
- Answers in Genesis
- Richard Land
- David Barton
This list makes it seem like I’m really a self-loathing Christian, or one of those vocal Christians who tries to win over unbelievers by tearing down the Church—currently, a very popular form of evangelism among young adult Christians (although they would probably scorn the term “evangelism”). Their evangel goes something like this:
“Let’s talk about all the ways the Church is horrible and Christians are stupid bigots. I’m a different kind of Christian, and I think those YEC Christians are the worst. So, you should be a Christian too!”
If I’m honest, I’ll admit that I fall into that style of evangelism sometimes too. Other times, I’m not willing to be critical enough about Christian culture.
It’s very hard not to be a Cheerleader for everything evangelicals do or a Parasite that grows by feeding off of mocking other evangelicals. After all, those do tend to be the two dominate styles of public discourse in our culture: militant and unyielding support, or militant and uncharitable critique.
This is precisely the kind of binary response I have tried to correct in this column, perhaps ineffectively. Although it might not be pleasant, we have a great responsibility to exhort and admonish each other. In fact, I believe that our responsibility to sharpen and admonish each other is much greater than our responsibility to condemn the world.
Why Criticize?Because we have been received the Gospel and are Christ’s Body, we ought to hold each other to a higher standard than we hold for unbelievers. We see this idea repeatedly in Scripture.
In 1 Peter 4:17, we are warned that judgement must begin with the house of God. Shouldn’t we then admonish each other in anticipation of such judgement?
In Luke 6:42, Christ calls us to remove the plank from our own eye before we attempt to remove the speck from our brothers’. In a like way, shouldn’t we remove the planks, whether they be “planks” of sin or wisdom, from the eyes of our community so that we can better witness to God’s love?
Paul has this concern about our witness in mind when he warns us in Romans 2:21-24 that the name of God is blasphemed among unbelievers because of the hypocrisy of Christians. And what’s Paul’s solution? Teachers should teach themselves. And I would add that so too should the Church teach itself so that the world has no cause to blaspheme God.
The concern of this column has been to address the ways in which we succeed or fail in living in light of the Kingdom of Heaven. And so a common theme has been identifying ways in which we have adopted practices and beliefs that are not fitting with our calling.
My columns have tended towards two major criticisms: 1. the use of uncharitable language and 2. the uncritical acceptance and perpetuation of falsehoods by conservative, evangelical Christians–my community.
The Internet, which has become for many of us the primary location of public discourse, lends itself to both of these errors. Anonymity and short attention spans encourage short, biting exchanges over nuanced dialogue. And the deluge of data (your twitter or news feed, for example) makes us disinclined to check facts, and so more susceptible to Confirmation Bias.
To make matters worse, the public and indiscriminate nature of most social networks has made it easier for people to influence friends and family. Which means that it is no small error when Christians spread falsehood or use uncharitable language online. It has real ramifications on what other Christians think and do and how unbelievers perceive us and the Faith. And it has been out of a concern over these effects that my columns often come, perhaps a bit overzealously.
The Good News
What is exciting is that Christians have such freedom to critique each other in love because our justification does not come through our works or the purity of the Church. Christ’s finished work on the Cross means that we have the grace to be wrong and to change without fear of condemnation. And we have the freedom to admonish brothers and sisters without judging their ultimate worth or salvation. We can admonish and be admonished because we are already forgiven through Christ’s blood.
In light of this grace, I will admit that at times I have focused too intently at the flaws in the Church or one side of the political spectrum. And it is my intention to offer more positive examples of believers who are faithful to their heavenly citizenship and more balance to my criticisms. However, my passion and concern will always be for the edification of the communities that I most identify with: conservative, evangelical, reformed, republican, homeschoolers [who raise goats, preferably]; so, please bear with me as I continue to be sharpened and corrected in my attempts to sharpen and correct those that I love.